Nutrition-wise blog

Sugar challenge: Cut the sweetness for 2 weeks

By Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. March 1, 2016

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting added sugar to less than 10 percent of calories a day.

The major source of added sugars in the typical U.S. diet is beverages, which include soft drinks, fruit drinks, sweetened coffee and tea, energy drinks, alcoholic beverages and flavored waters. Sugar-sweetened beverages are blamed for many ills — weight gain, diabetes and heart disease. The argument between the beverage industry and the scientists is that there is no absolute proof — only a correlation — linking sugary drinks and these health problems.

I'd like to set those arguments aside for a moment and focus on a different question.

First, consider that a regular sugar-sweetened soft drink has 10 or more teaspoons of sugar. Artificial sweeteners are 100s to 1,000s of times sweeter than table sugar.

That's a lot of sweetness. Compare that to an apple or orange. They're sweet but probably don't hit the "wow" level on your sweetness scale. Maybe you're thinking, "But I like a lot of sweetness."

Here's my question: Have your taste buds become so accustomed to super-sweet drinks that the natural sweetness in foods, such as fruits, pales in comparison? Want to find out?

I invite you to take this challenge: Ditch the added sugar and artificial sweeteners in your diet for two weeks. Think of it as a palate cleanse. For the next two weeks, choose foods that contain little or no added sugar or artificial sweetener.

Here are the details:

  1. Choose foods that have 5 grams of sugar or less a serving. You can find this information on the Nutrition Facts label.
  2. Also limit natural sweeteners, such as agave, honey and molasses, to 5 grams or less a serving.
  3. Avoid artificial sweeteners as much as possible.
  4. Add fruits — fresh, frozen or dried — to foods to add flavor and nutrition. Fruits, vegetables and milk have natural sugars. For example, an 8-ounce container of yogurt has 12 grams of natural sugar (lactose). That's OK. To figure out how much added sugar a yogurt has, subtract 12 grams from the total grams of sugar listed on the Nutrition Facts label. What is left is the amount of added sugar.

After you've completed the challenge, please share your experiences. How did foods and beverages taste throughout the two weeks and after? Were you surprised to see what foods and beverages have added sugars or artificial sweeteners? Any other interesting discoveries?

To your health,

Originally published April 10, 2013

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March 01, 2016